I do try not to get into politics on my blog. But then again, I have no qualms with talking about religion. So when politics is trying to take over my religion...from the inside...maybe that's a good time to make an exception. It's just one little blog, after all.
You may already have heard of the furor surrounding Fr. Marcel Guarnizo. If not, you can read the epilogue here. A more complete explanation of the facts is available here, and here. As it happens, I know Fr. Marcel personally. He's an uncompromising sort - he tells the truth bluntly and he may be genetically incapable of sugar-coating anything. That doesn't mean he's incapable of kindness - just that with him, it doesn't take the form of diplomacy. Like a lot of people of that temperament, he doesn't mind the same plain-spokenness directed at him - I know this from experience.
So here's what actually happened - the short version. Barbara Johnson was apparently raised Catholic, but at some point left the Church and now professes to be a Buddhist. Her late mother was a parishioner where Fr. Marcel was assigned in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Ms. Johnson had the responsibility of offering a eulogy at her mother's funeral. For this reason, she was engaged in discussions with Fr. Marcel (the celebrant for the funeral Mass) in the sacristy. She took that opportunity to introduce him to another woman, whom she introduced as her "lover." During the funeral Mass, she entered the line for communion, and presented herself to receive the Eucharist from Fr. Marcel. He refused her communion (so quietly that the lay Eucharistic minister standing next to him did not notice). She then got in the other line and received communion from that person (who did not know what was going on, obviously).
She then went on a press junket about Father's refusal to give her communion (citing in addition the fact that he left the funeral Mass, apparently because he was sick, and arranged for another priest to accompany the mourners to the grave site). The liberal media took it up immediately as an indication of the Church's hatred of homosexuals. So far, so humdrum (well, minus the part about a non-Catholic professedly living in a state of mortal sin presenting herself twice for communion and actually receiving it).
As soon as the story hit the press (the Huffington Post - before it even got into the Washington Post, I believe), a DC auxiliary bishop issued an apology to Ms. Johnson. The bishop never contacted Fr. Marcel to ask what had happened. Fr. Marcel is assigned in the Archdiocese of Washington; they know where he works, and they know where he lives, because he works for them. It's not that they forgot he works for them, of course - no sooner had they issued an apology without demonstrating any interest in the facts, than they ordered him (under obedience, because he is a priest and must obey the bishop) not to speak publicly about what happened. In other words, they didn't innocently assume that they knew all the facts. The Archdiocese of Washington actively and deliberately tried to suppress the facts of this story because its officials wanted to appear as pro-homosexual as possible. Then, they removed him from service in the archdiocese (saying Mass and hearing confessions) - without even admitting that the furor over Ms. Johnson was their motivation. The bishops wanted Fr. Marcel to be tarred as a homophobe, and themselves to be lauded as progressive and enlightened.
Now, you may ask, does not Christian charity require Catholics to treat homosexuals with love and respect? Of course it does. Of course it does. ALL persons deserve love and respect. Our obligation to love people and respect them isn't changed by who they are, what they believe, or the fact that they are sinners - all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
So why did Fr. Marcel deny this woman communion?
This is the central question here - to a believing Catholic, the only question that matters. The answer is simple. The belief of the Catholic Church is that the Eucharist - the bread and wine - REALLY, ACTUALLY, and LITERALLY is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Not a symbol, a reenactment, or a metaphor - the actual body and blood of Christ. This topic was actually addressed by the archdiocese - very, very quietly, compared to its outspoken actions attacking the priest who defended the Sacrament - fairly accurately here.
That sounds insane, right?
It's totally insane. It got Christians in the early centuries persecuted by pagan Rome for cannibalism. It's an out-there belief. We believe a lot of out-there things - and as times change, and we don't (I hope), some of them start to seem more out-there than they were before. Others become commonplace. Which is fine - we don't believe them because they're popular so we don't change them when they're not. We believe that they're true.
Because we believe that the Eucharist is actually the body and blood of Christ, no person may receive the Eucharist at Mass unless (1) he is a Catholic; (2) he is in a "state of grace," meaning that if he has committed any grave sin, he must go to confession before receiving Communion; and (3) he has fasted for an hour before receiving. (Some limited exceptions are available.) The reasons for this are pretty obvious, right? If we believe that we are actually consuming the body and blood of Christ - insane in itself - we ought to be pretty careful about doing so, and make sure that everyone else is, too. The Eucharist isn't birthday cake. We don't hand it out to indicate who we think is "cool." The Church distributes the Eucharist because she was commanded to do so by Christ (at the Last Supper), and does so in a very careful way.
The Church's strict rules on the receipt of communion don't only bar those engaging in homosexual acts (persons of homosexual orientation who are chaste are as free to receive the Eucharist as any other person who is living a life of virtue). On the contrary. Assuming you haven't been to confession, you aren't permitted to receive communion if you've had sex or engaged in other sexually impure behavior with your boyfriend or girlfriend (regardless of your sexual orientation); cheated on your spouse; deliberately missed Mass on a Sunday; willingly entertained sexually impure thoughts; used contraception to avoid pregnancy; deliberately harmed an innocent person physically (including killing an innocent person, which includes abortion); masturbated; consumed pornography; stolen something of significant value; lied about someone with the intent of doing him harm; become seriously and immoderately angry; broken an oath or a vow...the list goes on.
It's a long list, right? We take this stuff VERY seriously. These aren't rules that most people live by - they don't believe what we believe. By the same token, they don't present themselves to receive our sacraments. Why would they? If they don't believe it's the body and blood of Christ as we do, why would they want to receive it? Just to be offensive to Catholics? What kind of a person would do that?
I don't believe that Allah is God or that Mohammed is his prophet, and consequently I don't pray five times a day to Mecca, and I wouldn't insert myself into worship in a mosque. I don't believe in Vishnu and wouldn't participate in Hindu ceremonies. I'm not Jewish and I don't attend synagogue. If I were invited by a practitioner of another faith to attend worship with him, and doing so didn't run contrary to my religion, then I would do so. But I would not violate the traditions and etiquette - to say nothing of religious requirements - of that faith. I wouldn't enter a mosque with my head uncovered. I wouldn't insist on sitting on the men's side in an orthodox temple. I wouldn't bring a hamburger to India to eat in a crowd of Hindus. I don't need to go to those places and harass those people. The fact that I believe something different doesn't require me to insult what they hold sacred - particularly as a guest.
And it doesn't matter whether their religious beliefs happen to run afoul of my political beliefs. I'm a woman, but I don't have to flaunt my notions of gender equity (whatever those may be) at the expense of respecting others' religious traditions while I'm in their church. If their religious beliefs are absolutely objectionable to me, I have an excellent option - don't attend their worship.
Ms. Johnson chose "none of the above." She may well have known what Catholics believe about the Eucharist. She chose to present herself to receive it even though she knew she was engaging in behavior the Church defines to be a sin. (That part she certainly knew - she made a point of making an issue of it to the priest.) If she was somehow unaware of Catholics' beliefs regarding the sacredness of the Eucharist, she was told by a priest and she certainly knew it then.
Can you IMAGINE going to someone else's church (even if for a family funeral, wedding, whatever), presenting yourself to receive communion or participate in some other ceremony, being told discreetly by a minister that you were not permitted to, and going around to another line so you could do so anyway? Can you IMAGINE? I can't. I blush just thinking of such brazen, offensive behavior. It's shocking. And that's just assuming that I would be intruding on someone else's tradition - not committing a sacrilege against God.
Ms. Johnson wasn't ashamed of her behavior. She had a press tour set up for the minute she walked out of the church. Her mother's funeral was probably the first opportunity she found to paint herself as a sympathetic victim while committing a sacrilege against someone else's faith. She wants this story to be about how the Church denies communion to homosexuals. I have news for Ms. Johnson: the Church refuses communion to anyone who is known to be involved in an extramarital sexual relationship. That's a rather large slice of the population. You're not as special as you think you are.
But that's not where the real problem comes in. The real problem comes in when the cardinal and auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Washington soft-pedal the body and blood of Christ because defending it would anger the homosexual lobby and the liberal media. The problem comes in when they use embarrassingly transparent grounds to remove a priest - just as Barbara Johnson demanded they do! - for fulfilling his priestly vocation by defending Jesus Christ, really present in the Eucharist. So they don't have to hear a Washington Post reporter assault their delicate episcopal ears with the word "bigot." Can we think of anyone else who refused to acknowledge that he knew Our Lord when he perceived that asserting friendship with Him would mean being reviled?
When priests are punished, not for neglecting the sacraments and the prerogatives of God, but for honoring them, Satan is in charge of the Church. At least, this archdiocese - but I very much doubt it stops here.
You're not going to cover up the identity of you true master forever, Cardinal Wuerl. And you're not going to live forever, either. Is it worth it?